Why Your Teenager Is Driving You Crazy

You probably know that some bad behavior often comes with having a teenager–whether it’s making choices without regard to consequences, questioning authority (aka parents and teachers), or just become more distant. It can feel like your teenager is driving you crazy, making this a challenging time for both parent and child–and it can be hard to understand why our kids are acting out. However, we asked experts to give us the reasons behind why teenagers act out or stay silent, so you can discover better ways to cope and communicate with yours.


Their Brains Work Against Them

“While teenagers’ brains are growing at a rapid rate, they are still many years away from maturity—as brains typically complete growth at age twenty-five,” says David Ezell, founder and CEO of Darien Wellness, a counseling and psychiatry group in Darien, CT. “The last part of the brain to develop is the frontal cortex, which is the part that contains the executive functioning area and is involved with abstract thought, planning, and impulse control.”

What does this mean for your teen who is juggling many new thoughts and emotions? “Executive functions allow us to plan and see consequences,” Ezell says. “So, what adults perceive to be obviously ‘risky’ behavior does not seem that way to teenagers because their brains have difficulty connecting today to tomorrow. The combination of a lack of experience and a developing brain sets young people up to put themselves in situations that most adults would consider to be very dangerous.”


They Lack Experience

There’s another very important reason your teens are acting out, and it’s actually quite simple: Teenagers haven’t had anywhere near the life experience you’ve had.

“As adults, we know that if we don’t pay the ConEd bill, the lights will be turned off,” Ezell says. “Most teens lack that experience of cause and effect, nor have they seen their peers experience a similar situation.”

Remember: Being a teenager is a developmental stage, albeit one that may involve intense mood swings, lying, social media obsession, and trading communication with you for spending way more time with his friends.

“This is a time when a child is going from being a child to becoming an independent adult, which is also why there is so much change happening in their body, minds, and actions,” says Shuli Sandler, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Teaneck, NJ. “A lot of this time is about figuring out who they are and part of that is pushing limits in the service of that exploration and discovery.”


Hormones are Surging

Along with changing bodies come changing hormones, which play a large role in what teens are feeling.

“All of these new hormones can also contribute to a lack of impulse control,” says Nikita Banks, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in Brooklyn. “Think about all that your teen is juggling. She is both trying to figure out who she is as an individual and find her place in society, which is a very big transition. To do this, she may pull away or test the values of her family and adapt behaviors that will be seen as more desirable to her peer group. When you put all of these factors together it can make for one wild ride.”

With this surge in independence, teens may push the envelope to see how far they can push you.

“The goal you hope for as a parent is for your teen to ultimately end up in the middle where he takes appropriate risks but uses caution and prudence when indicated,” Dr. Sandler says. “It does take time for the two extremes to settle down in the middle, as is often the case in life.”


What You Can Do

Given all of this change, keeping the lines of communication open with your teen is very important—especially when he makes bad or questionable choices. Plan regular outings together or eat meals as a family to bridge the gaps and enable everyone to feel heard.

“This time together is very important, and it serves another purpose, too. It’s actually a really good way to get an inside view of what is going on in their life,” Banks says. “Your goal should be twofold: You want to monitor their social interactions with friends to the best of your ability, but also give your child a voice.”

After all, any strong connection you can keep with your teen is crucial and will help ease the very important transition she is moving through.

“When teens feel that they are not only seen but heard at home, it helps them develop a greater sense of self-esteem,” Banks adds. “It also provides a strong foundation for them to be able to withstand the social pressures of this time of life.”